After I graduated college I started working with Varsity athletes right away, but I had no experience. I simply relied on my education that gave me the working knowledge of exercise science to design proper programs. With my background in bodybuilding I knew how to build strength and I knew how strength enhanced athletic performance, but I still needed to learn more about the specific needs of athletes.
As I studied and learned various training techniques and methods for athletes I started following trends and wasn’t really applying the principles of exercise or sticking to the basics anymore. I fell into the trap of gimmicky programming in the so called ‘sport specific’ and ‘functional training’ world. I wasn’t becoming a better trainer for it, I was getting worse. Years gone by before I started to realize that these so called ‘training methods’ were somewhat of a farce. Good to some degree, but honestly nothing more than methods. After all, methods come and go, but basic strength training principles are constant.
After so many years of thinking I was a performance trainer, I didn’t even know if my athletes were getting better or not. So I began to go back to my roots and stick to the basic principles of strength training while still incorporating athletic based work. The more I started training with hockey players on a regular basis I watched them become stronger and faster in a very short period of time.
I had the fortunate opportunity to visit the Vancouver Canucks training facility back in 2014 to spend the afternoon watching some of the player workouts and learn from their Head Strength Coach. When I always thought there was some kind of secret/advanced training methods for the pros, I quickly realized there was no secret at all. These guys weren’t doing anything advanced, crazy or gimmicky. They were pretty much doing the same stuff I was teaching my young hockey players, ‘the basics’.
My learning experience that day was a valuable one to say the least and it affirmed I was doing the right thing for the young players I was working with. Now it doesn’t come with the notion that young hockey players should train like the pros, rather the point I’m making is to stick to the basics no matter what level a player is at. The best advice the Canucks trainer gave me that day was to do just that, stick to the basics and make sure to test and measure player’s performance along the way. It was about getting them stronger safely, identifying weak links and imbalances, with the intention to help reduce the risk of injury…plain and simple.
From the basic strength exercises come many variations, but it’s important to know when and how to use variations to either challenge the athlete, modify the exercise, add variety, or be specific to the needs of the athlete. What I’d like to share with you today is a lower body strength exercise I use with my young hockey players all the time that has proven to show a huge increase in strength and speed on the ice, it’s called the ‘walking lunge’. While some might say “that’s so basic”, I say “yes and it works”.
You can’t get much more basic than this exercise and the wealth of benefits come in the form of not only increased strength, but stability, core strength, posture control, and grip strength (if using dumbbells). The demands of this exercise, better yet (movement) is such that is requires the body to respond, adapt, and work not only the nervous system, but make everything from the joint, muscles, tendons and ligaments work harder together.
My recommendations based on the results my hockey players get is to perform somewhere between 2-4 sets of this exercise, with anywhere from 14-20 steps per leg, using a resistance that starts to fatigue the legs in that repetition range. Depending on each player’s abilities, limitations and needs, you will have to determine what is best suitable for them to continue to see results progressively and safely. So start incorporating walking lunges into your programming and watch the difference in your strength and speed on the ice.
For more information, questions or comments please feel free to leave them below. Till then, inspire your players to believe in their potential to always do their best and never give up.
BY: MIKE PICKLES, D.FHP
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